You have the fancy liberal-arts education, you read the right books and drop references to recent New Yorker articles (they don't have to know you only found time to skim the abstract on the website...), you form opinions that sound well-thought out on pertinent topics, like the progress of diplomacy in the Middle East, or the demise of the print media world, or whether or not Lindsay Lohan seeks the train-wreck attention, or is just harassed.
But you're still missing something. That gold star next to your name, that extra layer of polish on your cocktail-party conversation, that wheat-colored eco-friendly canvas tote bag that says "I have achieved complete liberal-mindedness on all fronts. I listen to NPR."
Never fear - you won't have to listen to hours of flat news delivery followed by a marginally interesting music program featuring artists you don't actually like moderated by yet another self-important Swarthmore graduate, because now you have a handy guide to sounding like you listen to NPR daily...without having to turn the dial away from that new T-Pain single.
Step 1: Memorize Some Show Names
As you may have learned when discussing your other 'interests' like Ulysses, or experimental theatre, it's less important that you be able to actually discuss any real content, than that you be able to give reference points that sound like you must have in- and di-gested said content. ("The scene where he breaks the fourth wall, and has Molly call out to him, James, the author, just totally laid the groundwork for all literary writing for the rest of the 20th century." "I think the performances were good, but painting the sets on-stage as a sort of meta-moment of theatre is a bit played, don't you think?")
So it goes with NPR. Find a headline on your CNN widget that sounded interesting and/or quirky? You heard about it on "All Things Considered." Alternatively, Mo Rocca gave a hilarious riff on it on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," but you can't really do it justice (and no, you don't remember who won this week - you were cooking, it was hard to pay attention...). Form an opinion about said news story? Maybe you heard a dialogue about it on "Tell Me More." And my god, your listener should have heard the "Annyoing Music Show" this week - it was like Hanson crashed into early Michael Jackson and the BeeGees were bystanders! If anyone calls you out on any reference, note that you were listening to the online edition, and that the programming schedule is a little different there.
Step 2: Car Talk
This is the sort of blue-collar show that, if you "get a kick out of those guys, even though [you] don't know anything about cars," it completely reaffirms your own white-collar, highly educated status. Think Marie Antoinette playing shepherdess, or people who love "slumming" when they go out to bars. You now like "Car Talk." And one of these days, you're gonna call Click and Clack and just have it out, really you are.
Step 3: "Form" Your "Opinion" On Garrison Keillor
Is he a pompous ass who uses his made-for-drolleries inflectionless delivery to convince people that just naming people "Ole [oh-lee]" makes every stupid thing he says about some way of life that clearly never existed, anywhere, funny? Or is his the most brilliant comic mind of a generation, the show both a record of a charming, quaint Midwestern existence, and a wry poke at our peculiarly American way of life? "I don't really know because his droning makes me fall asleep" is not an appropriate response.
Step 4: Disdain At Least One Major Player
Really, Garrison Keillor is the only real option for this. Luckily, he's easy to pretend to hate. Alternatively, you can find the world music shows "colonialist" in their programming choices, or think that "This American Life" is condescending and altogether too precious.
Step 5: Start Dropping Those References...
Did you hear that interview with the Shakespearean expert the other night? Her opinions on Anne Hathaway's involvement in creating Shakespeare's legacy were just so interesting. I'd never thought about it that way before - and of course she was a feisty thing! You'd have to be, really; academia is still such a skewed environment, gender-wise...I do find that the economic coverage you get on public radio is just so much better, because they're not pandering to the lowest common denominator, you know? And of course there's just so much more space to really discuss ideas on radio - not like the stuff that passes for "news" over on cable, where they're always pandering to some advertising concern...You know, I think Paula Poundstone gets short-shrifted? I was listening to her on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," and she said the funniest thing about the Obama's recent British tour; it's just a tragedy that even for a comedian, a made-for-TV face is the only way you're ever going to win over the public...
And make sure to donate $20, or just head to your local goodwill, and find yourself one of those canvas totes. Then you can carry around your new-found sense of superiority with you at all times, right next to the programs from that African dance troupe you just loved and that Pynchon novel you're rereading, because isn't that really the only way to fully appreciate literature...
Follow Jilly Gagnon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jillygagnon